UK defence officials appear to have delayed the next phase of the ongoing New Medium Helicopter (NMH) contest, potentially pushing back the service-entry target for the Puma replacement platform.

Having down-selected bidders in September last year, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) was supposed to issue the invitation to negotiate (ITN) to the three remaining contenders by the end of the first quarter, according to the most recent schedule.


Source: Leonardo Helicopters

Leonardo is offering the AW149 for the NMH contest

However, the ITN – essentially the detailed specification, quantity and budget for the procurement – is now unlikely to arrive before mid-year, according to Leonardo Helicopters.

Speaking to journalists ahead of Heli-Expo in Atlanta on 6 March, Gian Piero Cutillo, managing director of Leonardo Helicopters, said the process had “is a little bit delayed”.

Shortlisted bidders were briefed by the MoD on the updated timeline at an industry day on 24 February.

Stefano Villanti, senior vice-president of sales and marketing at Leonardo Helicopters, says the ITN is now expected to be released in May or June, although the MoD “has not specified an exact date”; a contract award is now anticipated in 2024, he adds.

Under the MoD’s initial schedule, deliveries were meant to begin in 2025 allowing the progressive retirement of the Royal Air Force’s fleet of Puma HC2 transports.

But Villanti says the date for the first delivery was not specified at the industry day. “The process has dragged on for longer [than expected] so 2025 is going be a challenge,” he adds.

Leonardo Helicopters is offering the AW149 for the NMH requirement, which would be built at the airframer’s site in Yeovil, southwest England. It faces competition from the Airbus Helicopters H175M – to be assembled at Broughton in North Wales – and the Sikorsky S-70M.

Up to 44 helicopters could be procured under NMH, as the MoD attempts to replace the Puma and three other smaller rotorcraft fleets in the UK’s inventory.